Why Has New Zealand Banned This Book?

Annie Keller

A book being banned altogether from being distributed in a country seems like something out of a totalitarian state, but that's exactly what has happened in New Zealand. It's the first time a book has been banned from distribution in New Zealand in 22 years. While private residents can still own the book, it is not allowed to be distributed to schools, libraries, and stores. The book, Into the River by Ted Dawe, is a young adult novel that, far from being critically panned, won the New Zealand Post Children's Book award in 2013.

So, why has the book been banned, and what is New Zealand doing about it?

The ban is the result of a complaint issued by a New Zealand religious group, Family First. The group objected to sexual situations, coarse language, and scenes of drug use. As a result of the complaint, an interim restriction was placed on the book by the New Zealand Film and Literature Board of Review. The restriction will be reviewed in thirty days. Family First claims they never asked for an outright ban on the book and merely asked the board to put an age restriction on it. There had been an age restriction on the book before, but it had been removed prior to the ban.

The plot of Into The River involves a Maori boy from rural New Zealand being sent to an Auckland boarding school. Author Ted Dawe says that he was trying to write a novel that would appeal to teenage boys, a market that produces few readers. He also believes that young adult books should deal with similar themes as adult novels but with a younger protagonist in mind.

The decision has provoked outrage from many New Zealanders, from bookstore owners to other authors. The chief executive of the group Booksellers New Zealand called the ban "most concerning." While legislation was put in place in New Zealand in 1993 that could place age restrictions on books and other media, Into The River was the first book to be banned from distribution because of it. Many booksellers say this means the law should be revised or scrapped altogether.

As is the case with any banned book, the outcry of protest in New Zealand has spread all over the world, and many have joked that it is the best PR campaign possible. Certainly far more people are now aware of Ted Dawe's book, and silent readings of it are planned all over New Zealand. Is that any consolation for its author? Likely not.

The decision on the book will be reviewed by the New Zealand Film and Literature Board and either revised, scrapped, or made final in one month.

(Image via Time Out Bookstore Facebook page)